I’m aware of someone gripping my ankles.
As hands slide under my shoulders, a woman says, “How’d he get out of the box?”
A man responds: “No idea. Look, he’s coming to.”
As hands slide under my shoulders, a woman says "How'd he get out of the box?"
I open my eyes, but all I see is blurred movement and light.
The man barks, “Let’s get him the hell out of here.”
I try to speak, but the words fall out of my mouth, garbled and formless.
The woman says, “Dr. Dessen? Can you hear me? We’re going to lift you onto a gurney now.”
I look toward my feet, and the man’s face racks into focus. He’s staring at me through the face shield of an aluminized hazmat suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus.
Glancing at the woman behind my head, he says, “One, two, three.” They hoist me onto a gurney and lock padded restraints around my ankles and wrists.
“Only for your protection, Dr. Dessen.”
I watch the ceiling scroll past, forty or fifty feet above. Where the hell am I? A hangar?
I catch a glint of memory — a needle puncturing my neck. I was injected with something. This is some crazy hallucination.
A radio squawks, “Extraction team, report. Over.”
The woman says with excitement bleeding through her voice, "We have Dessen. We're en route. Over."
I hear the squeak of wheels rolling.
"Copy that. Initial condition assessment? Over."
She reaches down with a gloved hand and wakes some kind of monitoring device that's been Velcroed to my left arm.
"Pulse rate: one-fifteen. BP: one-forty over ninety-two. Temp: ninety-eight-point-nine. Oh-two sat: ninety-five percent. Gamma: point-eight seven. ETA thirty seconds. Out."
A buzzing sound startles me.
We move through a pair of vaultlike doors that are slowly opening. Jesus Christ.
Stay calm. This isn't real.
The wheels squeak faster, more urgently.
We're in a corridor lined with plastic, my eyes squinting against the onslaught of light from fluorescent bulbs shining overhead.
The doors behind us slam shut with an ominous clang, like the gates to a keep.
They wheel me into an operating room toward an imposing figure
in a positive pressure suit, standing under an array of surgical lights.
He smiles down at me through his face shield and says, as if he knows me, "Welcome back, Jason. Congratulations. You did it."
I can only see his eyes, but they don't remind me of anyone I've ever met.
''Are you experiencing any pain?" he asks.
I shake my head.
"Do you know how you got the cuts and bruises on your face?'' Shake.
"Do you know who you are?"
"Do you know where you are?" Shake.
"Do you recognize me?" Shake.
'Tm Leighton Vance, chief executive and medical officer. We're
colleagues and friends." He holds up a pair of surgical shears. "I need to get you out of these clothes."
He removes the monitoring device and goes to work on my jeans and boxer shorts, tossing them into a metal tray. As he cuts off my shirt, I gaze up at the lights burning down on me, trying not to panic.
But I'm naked and strapped to a gurney.
No, I remind myself, I'm hallucinating that I'm naked and strapped to a gurney. Because none of this is real.
Leighton lifts the tray holding my shoes and clothes and hands it to someone behind my head, outside my line of sight. "Test every thing."
Footsteps rush out of the room.
I note the sharp bite of isopropyl alcohol a second before Leighton cleans a swatch of skin on the underside of my arm.
He ties a tourniquet above my elbow.
"Tust drawing some blood," he says, taking a large-gauge hypoder
mic needle from the instrument tray.
He's good. I don't even feel the sting.
When he's finished, Leighton rolls the gurney toward the far side of the OR to a glass door with a touchscreen mounted on the wall beside it.
"Wish I could tell you this is the fun part," he says. "If you're too
disoriented to remember what's about to happen, that's probably for the best."
I try to ask what's happening, but words still elude me. Leigh ton's fingers dance across the touchscreen. The glass door opens, and he pushes me into a chamber that's just large enough to hold the gurney.
"Ninety seconds," he says. "You'll be fine. It never killed any of the test subjects."
Reprinted from DARK MATTER. Copyright (c) 2016 Blake Crouch. Published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.